Oscar the toast of Athens

2004-09-27 11:02
Athens - Oscar Pistorius, the 17-year-old sensation of athletics at the Paralympics, was a busy lad on Sunday when four international television networks lined up to interview the Pretoria schoolboy after his world record trail for gold and silver in sprints for leg amputees.

"They were raving about him," said Bronwyn Badenhorst, the media manager for the SA Paralympic team.

"He was interviewed by Sky, BBC, Italian Skyforce and a German crew. They all said what a fantastic interview they had with him.

"They wanted to know how his disability happened and whether he'd get to a stage where he'd compete against able-bodied athletes at top level. He was quite happy to say it's a challenge he'd like to take up."

You had to be in the Olympic Stadium to understand why this mild-mannered Grade 11 learner at Pretoria Boys High has gripped the imagination at these Games.

His story that went out to the world after Sunday's interviews is that his disability origin, in Paralympian talk, is symes amputation, double below the knees, which means he was born with no bone below both his knees and resulted in amputation at a young age.

"Ever since he was a toddler, he always wanted to be first," recalls his father Henke, who said he wanted to burst with pride watching his son from the stands.

"He was never afraid to race. He used to have short out and back races on grass against his friends and he'd run on his stumps and beat them because he was so quick on the turn. Later, when he learned to walk in prosthetics, if we went hiking, he was always out to be the first at the top of a hill or mountain."

The interviewers heard how he played schoolboy rugby at inside centre in normal prosthetics, then how he gave up rugby for athletics in January.

They discovered how it took time for him to get used to his specially designed racing prosthetics, or blades, and that he's already left many an able-bodied athlete looking for parking because he was selected to race in a series of relays with matriculant athletes before leaving for Athens.

In Athens, he stunned his opposition and amazed the crowds as he became a phenomenon of the 2004 Paralympics.

On Saturday night he followed up his 200m world record gold against single leg amputees with a bronze medal in 11,16sec - a world record for double-amputees.

"I've never run this fast in my life. My start was much better than it was before, but I relaxed a bit over the first 30m," said Pistorius afterwards.

"I am very glad with my time, it's 0.4secs faster than I have run before and 1.1secs quicker than the world record (for double amputees)."

Pistorius, who stunned with his 21.97sec world record in the 200m last week, only started athletics in January. And his inexperience showed coming out of the blocks, but he surged through the 100m field to challenge world record-holder Marion Shirley and Brian Frasure, both Americans, on the line.

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